My view of the intelligence services was formed during the Church hearings in 1975, and all the bad opinions I acquired then were only affirmed when the news about the CIA’s extreme rendition (kidnapping) and extreme interrogation (torture) protocols broke following 9/11.
But then I heard James Clapper talking about his work in the IC (Intelligence Community) and he sounded like a pretty decent guy trying to do an impossible job. So I read his book, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence.
In outlook it reminded me a lot of James Comey’s biography, A Higher Truth. Neither man is a politician. Comey is a better storyteller and Clapper digs down into the details, but both men appear to be dedicated to speaking truth to power. It was interesting to me how bothered both men were by Trump’s inflation of the number of people who attended his inauguration.
Clapper is unsparing in criticizing his own mistakes, some of which were doozies (WMD in Iraq, for example). But he learned from that and other failures, specifically that at least in part the cause of those failures was the way the intelligence bureaucracies regarded the proprietary nature of intelligence; in other words, that they weren’t sharing what they learned with each other. From then on Clapper’s mission was to ensure that, going forward, they do.
The chapter on Benghazi is essential reading. It never occurred to me to wonder why Ambassador Chris Stevens put himself into harm’s way, and the fog of deliberate political obfuscation by the various Congressional committees investigating Benghazi essentially ensured that the truth never will be known. He doesn’t have much nice to say about the current Congress but he backs up his criticism with an insider’s view of how the sausage gets made in the chapter “Consumed by Money.” It’s pretty painful to read, and if nothing else it will certainly drive you the the voting booth. The stupefyingly ignorant and self-serving questions he receives when he testifies before Congress will, too (including one from my own senator, Dan Sullivan, joy).
And Clapper convinced me absolutely that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election, although they never expected Trump to win
On Election Day, November 8, no one really believed Mr. Trump had a chance—including the Russians, who had never pivoted back to promoting him, and who, it could be argued, gave Green Party candidate jill Stein more favorable coverage. On election night, they’d planned a multi-faceted campaign to discredit Clinton’s win, with the Twitter hashtag #DemocracyRIP.
and they are without question continuing to interfere in our politics today.
The Russians are astutely and persistently exploiting this divisiveness with every controversial issue they can identify, and regrettably, we are a very inviting target for them as they target both sides of every issue…To be clear, the Russians are our primary existential threat. All those nuclear weapons they have or are developing are intended for only one adversary: the United States.
Clapper is famous for the phrase “Everything will be okay,” but on December 12, 2016
…I…picked up the speech I had planned to deliver Wednesday at a dinner in my honor, when I was scheduled to address INSA, the large intelligence industry association whose predecessor I’m been president of in the 1990s. My talk was — once again — built around the reassuring phrase, “It’ll be okay.” I called my speechwriter into the office, handed him the speech, and told him, “I don’t think I can say this anymore.”
An eye-witness account from a front-row seat to recent history, and very much worth reading.